Public Executions and Violations: Amnesty's Report on Iran, China, and Others

The recent historic execution in Alabama using nitrogen gas shocked the public, and research reveals that China kills several thousand people by capital punishment

by Sededin Dedovic
Public Executions and Violations: Amnesty's Report on Iran, China, and Others
© Alex Wong / Getty Images

In the realm of capital punishment, the state of Alabama in the United States recently made history by executing a convict through the use of nitrogen gas, marking a significant shift in the methods employed for carrying out death sentences.

This development comes at a time when global trends in capital punishment are on the rise, despite numerous nations opting to abolish the death penalty. One such instance is the recent sentencing of a Japanese man to death by hanging for an arson incident that claimed the lives of 36 people.

To gain a comprehensive understanding of the global landscape regarding the death penalty, it is crucial to examine the statistics and trends associated with this controversial practice. As of 2022, according to Amnesty International's latest data, 55 countries still had the death penalty.

Out of these, nine nations reserved it exclusively for the gravest crimes such as multiple murders or war crimes, while 23 countries retained the death penalty on their books but hadn't executed anyone in the past decade.

Amnesty International's figures, compiled from official statistics, media reports, and information provided by those sentenced to death, reveal that China stands as the world's leading executioner, with thousands of executions occurring annually.

However, the lack of transparency in China's reporting makes it challenging to ascertain precise numbers. In addition to China, 883 executions were recorded worldwide in 2022, the highest since 2017. Although this number is noteworthy, it pales in comparison to the figures from 1988, 1989, and 2015, when over 1,500 executions occurred in a single year.

Activists participate in a vigil against the death penalty in front of the U.S. Supreme Court© Alex Wong / Getty Images

The global scenario extends beyond executions, with at least 2,016 death sentences handed down in 2022 across 52 countries.

As of the end of 2022, an alarming 28,282 individuals were believed to be on death row globally. The unsettling reality is that many condemned individuals languish on death row for years, if not decades, before facing execution.

Delving into the countries most actively employing the death penalty, it becomes evident that 20 nations executed individuals in 2022, an increase from the previous year. Apart from China, notable contributors to this grim statistic include Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United States.

Amnesty International has even documented public executions in Iran, including cases where individuals were executed for crimes committed when they were under the age of 18, highlighting a severe violation of international human rights standards.

The persistence of the death penalty is particularly evident in 11 countries, labeled by Amnesty International as consistent executioners. These nations include China, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Vietnam, and Yemen.

The report also suggests that North Korea is likely to continue using the death penalty, although independent confirmation is challenging to obtain. Saudi Arabia, in particular, saw its highest number of executions in 2022 in the last three decades, adding to concerns about the increasing use of capital punishment in certain regions.

Additionally, five countries—Bahrain, Comoros, Laos, Niger, and South Korea—reinstated the death penalty in 2022 after abstaining from its use for several years. Examining the landscape of executions in the United States, despite an increase from 2021, the numbers remain significantly lower than the peak observed in 1999.

This nuanced trend raises questions about the evolving attitudes towards capital punishment within the country. A specific aspect of capital punishment that warrants attention is the execution of individuals for drug-related offenses.

In 2022, 325 executions worldwide were carried out for drug crimes, with Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore leading in this grim category. Notably, Singapore executed its first woman in almost two decades in 2023, emphasizing the severity with which drug-related offenses are handled in some jurisdictions.

As debates on the death penalty continue, it is crucial to acknowledge the progress made by countries in abolishing this practice. The death penalty is no longer in use in 112 countries, a significant increase from 48 in 1991.

By 2022, six nations had completely or partially abolished the death penalty, with Kazakhstan, Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone, and the Central African Republic opting for complete abolition. Equatorial Guinea and Zambia, while not completely abolishing it, restricted its use to only the most serious crimes.

In a positive turn of events, the Malaysian parliament voted in April 2023 to abolish the mandatory death penalty for 11 serious crimes, including murder and terrorism. Furthermore, in July 2023, the Parliament of Ghana voted to completely abolish the death penalty, joining the growing global movement against state-sanctioned executions.

The implementation of the death penalty varies across countries, with Saudi Arabia standing out as the only nation listing beheading as a method of execution in 2022. Other methods employed include hanging, lethal injection, and death by firing squad, highlighting the diversity in approaches to this contentious practice.

In conclusion, the recent execution in Alabama using nitrogen gas underscores the ongoing debates and developments surrounding the death penalty. Despite global efforts to move away from capital punishment, the rise in executions in various countries, coupled with the persistence of the death penalty in certain regions, reflects a complex and multifaceted issue.

The evolving landscape of the death penalty demands continued scrutiny, advocacy for human rights, and a critical examination of the ethical implications associated with state-sanctioned executions.

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